This is part two of a three-part series that takes an in-depth look at China¡¯s new venture in its media strategy and worldwide soft power campaign, CNC World. The concluding installment will provide an in-depth analysis of CNC broadcasts.
The channel may be accessed online at http://www.xhstv.com/english_video_online.asp
Read part one.
CNC World and China¡¯s Soft Power Agenda
by Lilian Rogers
The creation of Xinhua¡¯s English-language international news channel, CNC World, comprises an integral part of China¡¯s developing soft-power agenda. For years, the Communist Party of China has been trying to enlarge its cultural capital in a variety of ways. Recently, the Party has increasingly utilized English-language media in efforts to project a positive image of China. Here¡¯s a look at China¡¯s current soft-power strategy and how media, specifically CNC World, plays a part in China¡¯s quest to have its voice heard worldwide.
Our notion of ¡°soft power¡± is mostly informed by the work of Joseph Nye, a Harvard professor who coined the term in the late 1980¡¯s. Soft power, in Nye¡¯s words, is the ¡°ability to affect others to obtain preferred outcomes by the co-optive means of framing the agenda, persuasion, and positive attraction¡±. Generally, the main goal in boosting soft power is to increase a country¡¯s persuasion and appeal. The Chinese government has gone about doing this in various ways, mainly focusing on the areas of culture and education.
Party leaders often refer to China¡¯s cultural history as the glue of the country, a patriotic rallying point, as well as the unique appeal of China for onlookers abroad. This has led to a strong emphasis on cultural preservation and education. This type of heritage work includes designating archeological parks as special sites or expanding the multitude of museums, cultural displays, and exhibition halls in China, according to a senior leader of the CCP, Li Changchun. In his statement to the People¡¯s Daily, Li also stressed that the ¡°protection and promotion of cultural heritage is important to China¡¯s overall development, ethnic unity and social stability, and is much needed in enhancing China¡¯s soft power globally¡±.
In concert with this cultural push, the Party has ramped up educational efforts, creating Confucius Institutes abroad as well as encouraging international student exchanges. There have been both positive and negative responses to such soft power efforts. Confucius Institutes, cultural and language centers run by Hanban (officially the Office of Chinese Language Council International, a branch of the Chinese government) have come under criticism as being conduits of government propaganda.
Increasingly, the Chinese government has incorporated media expansion into its soft power strategy. In efforts to take advantage of the image-making power of English-language media to enhance China¡¯s global reputation and credibility, the state has rigorously developed many aspects of English-language media. CCTV, the main state-run domestic channel in China, has an English-language channel (CCTV9), and the People¡¯s Daily and China Daily are both offered in English. Representatives of the state have also lauded media¡¯s soft power potential.
In a speech about media and the Internet given in April of this year, Wang Chen, the director of the State Council Information Office stated that foreign language channels are an ¡°important force in countering the hegemony of Western media and in bolstering our country¡¯s cultural soft power¡±.
A posting on the News of the Communist Party of China entitled ¡°How to improve China¡¯s soft power¡± reads like a Party briefing about the state of China¡¯s soft power efforts. The article lists various soft power indicators ranging from China¡¯s cultural influence ranking (7th out of 131 countries) and to the number of Confucius Institutes built (282 worldwide). It also cites aid efforts in the Haiti and Chile earthquakes as well as involvement in the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit as examples of Chinese soft power. Most importantly, the post refers to the comments of Dr. Li Zhi of the Communication University in China, who insists that a ¡°media system with international exposure¡± is crucial for ¡°disseminating Chinese culture to the world¡± and ¡°preventing foreign media agencies from monopolizing the right of voice¡±.
The motivations behind China¡¯s soft power initiative are manifold. A backgrounder from the Council on Foreign Relations explains that some experts think China is trying to set itself up as a world power in opposition to the West. Other experts say China is pushing its soft power in order to assure the world of its peaceful intentions, secure the resources needed for its booming economy, and isolate Taiwan.
Enter CNC World. A lot can be gleaned about China¡¯s soft power strategy from the creation of the news channel. China¡¯s media expansion is all about making a statement, ensuring that the Chinese voice is heard, and that the Chinese government is taken seriously. Xinhua took the first step by moving its headquarters in New York from a neighborhood in Queens to Times Square, a move which ¡°basically signals a new era in which they [Xinhua] want to become a global player¡±, according to Russell Leong, a professor of Asian-American studies at UCLA. The move to the iconic location signals Xinhua¡¯s desire to join the ranks of other well-respected news networks.
As China grows as an economic and diplomatic power, it wants to ensure it has appropriate representation on the global stage. English-language media, if effective, provides the perfect way to communicate the Chinese point of view and get overseas publicity. Jack Carney from the Beijing Review agrees that the creation of the channel is a smart move saying, ¡°The best way for China and its government to get it opinions out is by television¡±. Accordingly, the news channel is to provide ¡°an international vision with a Chinese perspective¡± says the Xinhua president¡ªhence, the channel¡¯s slogan ¡°A New Perspective¡±.
Part of this perceived need to express the Chinese viewpoint arises out of allegations against western news stations of biased reporting or only reporting negative stories. In the past, the Chinese government has accused western media of reporting inaccuracies in regard to controversial issues such as riots in Tibet, among other things. As Huang Youyi, vice president of China International Publishing Group puts it, ¡°The current struggle between East and West is mainly for the right to be heard¡±. Al-Jazeera English, based in Qatar, paved the way in providing an alternative to western-dominated media. According to Michael Anti, a Chinese blogger and critic, the success of Al-Jazeera English, which has an estimated reach of around 100 million households, prompted the Chinese government to pursue a similar venture.
Most of these soft-power concerns can be traced back to one thing¡ªresentment towards the perceived domination of western countries. This underlying psychological motivation has shaped much of China¡¯s soft power strategy, engendering in the Chinese government a need to combat the repressive force of western influence. An article from the Chinese Media Project provides a translation of Kong Jieshang¡¯s editorial regarding Chinese soft power and the ¡°three afflictions¡±, a term coined by a Chinese think tank. The three afflictions are faulted with having impeded China¡¯s national growth over the past century; they include ¡° foreign aggression, a weak economy and basic subsistence issues, and last, but now in the forefront, China¡¯s continued demonization at the hands of proud, ignorant, hateful and fearful Western nations¡±. This narrative of victimization is the root of China¡¯s soft power push. Kong refers to Liu Xiaobo¡¯s recent imprisonment as an example of China¡¯s bucking of supposed Western manhandling. Mockingly he declares, ¡°Now is the moment for Beijing to grab hold of the discourse power and export its own value system¡±.
According to Orville Schell, Director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society, China¡¯s ¡°debilitating sentiments of weakness, insecurity, and humiliation¡± date back to Mao¡¯s revolution, which gained emotional force from a ¡°widespread sense of unequal treatment and humiliation by foreign powers¡±. As Schell goes on to say, these elements of Mao¡¯s thinking have remained in China¡¯s institutions and informs the way in which the Chinese government interacts with the rest of the world.
The only question left is whether this type of English-media expansion can work as a soft power play. The Chinese government is understandably less concerned with making profit than with extending reach. In reference to an English version of the Party publication ¡°Seeking Truth¡±, an article in the Shanghaiist notes that profitability is not the top priority, at least at the initial stage. Still, profit and reach go hand and hand.
Even more important is the quality of the reporting, according to Chen Jibing. In an editorial from the Chengdu Commercial Daily translated by the Chinese Media Project, the professional journalist and blogger argued that western media has become dominant because of a high quality of reporting that is lacking in Chinese media. Chen argues that Chinese media officials need to get over their obsession with the technical aspects of media and start fulfilling journalistic principles such as reporting basic, objective facts instead of focusing on Party actions. Ultimately, low-quality reporting from CNC World will hurt more than it helps. As Chen puts it, ¡°If a television is of shabby quality, the only thing it will return is contempt and ridicule, even if its signal covers the surface of the moon¡±.